Email marketing is a massively popular tool these days and rightly so. It's cost effectiveness, quantifiability and potential for accurate targeting are unparalleled across the marketing spectrum, however, it's not uncommon for newcomers to the field to be waylaid by utilising outdated techniques or ignoring best practice.
In this guide, we'll look at some of these common pitfalls and address the burning question for email marketing beginners - should you attempt to quickly increase your contacts by buying or renting a list?
The short answer is 'no'. While it is undoubtedly tempting to artificially inflate your base of prospects by this means - it's almost always a bad idea. But why is this? And more importantly, how can marketers promptly expand their lists in the right way?
Spam and Standing
Your reputation is one of your most valuable resources and coming across as a spammer can easily put a dent in this. When you first start considering email marketing as a possible avenue, you're likely to come across a range of services offering to take the pain out of email marketing and do the legwork for you.
Typical offers include the opportunity to buy or rent thousands of email addresses and names for neatly segmented groups and while it's easy to see the appeal of this route, it's a bit of a false economy.
If you've considered buying a list, another aspect you're probably looking at is what software you'll be using to run your email marketing campaign. And more and more reputable vendors are insisting that users utilise an organically-grown, opt-in list, simply because it's better for everyone in terms of deliverability and ultimately, effectiveness.
While you can opt to join the dark side and choose a less scrupulous provider, this won't let you sidestep the problem and it's likely that your campaign's performance will suffer as a result. The ongoing war against spam has turned the average inbox into a digital fortress and it's so easy to be forever excluded and have your reputation indelibly tarnished with the brand of 'spammer' that it's just not worth it in the long-run.
The ways in which for-sale lists are sourced are typically underhand. While they may advertise as 'opt-in' that shouldn't be taken to mean that subscribers have actively chosen to receive communications directly from you. Similarly, the vendor won't be selling a new list every time, which means other companies have already had their wicked way with your contacts, devaluing their addresses and greatly enhancing the chances that you'll be dismissed out of hand or simply marked as spam.
But it doesn't stop there. Many email service providers have implemented a raft of measures to deter spamming activity, which includes planting spam-trap email addresses, taking advantage of data on emails that 'bounce' (go undelivered) and decimating the sender score of the supposed spammer accordingly.
Even if your correspondence miraculously overcomes all these technical hurdles, by using addresses sourced in an unscrupulous way - you'll lose out on accurate targeting. While the recipient may be part of the intended demographic, they've not specifically agreed to hear from you and therefore probably aren't in the right frame of mind to be receptive to your product or services. Do you really want to pre-emptively put off a prospect?
What to do instead?
Now we've established that buying email marketing lists is generally a bad move, what are the best ways to grow your lists quickly, ethically and organically? Sadly, there's no quick fix and with as with most online marketing techniques - you'll largely get out what you put in.
While I could easily spend an entire post writing about the best ways to grow your list, some top tips include:
Content is King: As a content enthusiast, I'm as biased about the power of content as I am tired of using this hackneyed phrase. Unfortunately, it's still one of the best ways to get across the fact that when it comes to differentiating yourself online, producing quality content is the best option you've got.
Content is not to be confused with copy, however, and while choosing the right words is certainly an important consideration, nowadays you'll want to look at rich media, video, infographics and other easily-digestible options as well.
However, all this can be a tall order for your average small company, so it's well worth considering outsourcing your content creation if you've got the budget.
Institute Data Capture: Now you're churning out quality content like a pro, don't just give it away. Use data capture forms and signups on resources like white papers and ebooks and don't forget to flank your blog posts with a call to subscribe for more tips on whatever subject you've written about.
You should also expand your data capture into the physical world and pick up relevant email addresses at networking events, meetings and trade shows wherever appropriate.
Giveaways: Promotions and competitions are a great way to encourage sign-ups, especially if they're geared towards the type of customer you're trying to attract. Simply ensure that entrants have to sign up with their contact info to take part.
Go Social: Social media isn't a silver bullet for digital marketing, but by developing a strong presence and contributing relevant content to relevant communities, you can encourage traffic to your landing pages and increase the chances of sign-ups.
Similarly, you can leverage your social pages directly and create custom tabs for sign-ups. However, this feature's currently only available on Facebook and you'll need a modicum of technical expertise to implement it.
The offers put across by email list vendors usually sound too good to be true, simply because they're not. While a quick fix will always be a tempting prospect, growing your list organically from the ground-up will make your campaign demonstrably more effective and involve less effort than rebuilding your sender score after being branded a spammer.
What are your experiences with buying email lists? Do you have any tips for speeding up organic growth? We're always keen to hear what you have to say, so don't be a stranger and leave us a comment or two!
And if you've still got questions about email marketing best practice or simply want to know how to grow your existing list, be sure to download our free online marketing guide today:
Images used courtesy of Olivia1024 on deviantART, Pascual Lopez on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons